It is hard to explain the absolutely traumatizing, horrifying experience of reading The Road. I read it in one day - it seemed appropriate, seeing as how it had no chapters, no breaks, had no quotation marks for dialogue, and was just completely unrelenting, unforgiving, and devoid of any hope. It has stayed with me for over a month now; I will be walking along and then stop in my tracks, remembering some horrifying image from the book. The Road takes place somewhere on the East coast of the U.S., after an apocalypse; the reason for the devastation is never clearly stated, although the fear and chaos leading up to it is remembered in flashback. The landscape described by McCarthy sounds like a nuclear winter - the air is cold, ash constantly blows through the air, there is no wildlife or plantlife. A man and his young son travel south, trying to find the coast, where they think life will be better. Anyone they see is automatically suspect, and therefore avoided. They stay out of the cities as much as possible, going through houses and stores to find canned goods and supplies to survive. None of the characters have names; they are only referred to as ‘the man,’ ‘the boy,’ or whatever title is the least trouble to identify them. There are hardly any scenes involving anyone other than the man and the boy.
The book is good. It is written well. I will give it that. But I really doubt if the message, the impact of the book is worth the reading of it. I mean, do I need to read about roving bands of cannibals with young boys they use as sexual slaves, or about an underground cellar of people being harvested for their limbs to feed said cannibals, or about a baby roasting on a spit in order to understand that people have bad sides?
Do I need to know about these specific horrors, in a world where wildlife - plant, animal, sea, everything - has died, to know that the environment is important, and that nuclear winter would be a bad thing?
Do I need to read about the main character stripping another man of his clothes and only possessions at gunpoint to know that those who label themselves as ‘good’ are making relative judgments, and are sometimes not deserving of the labels they give to themselves?
I’m lapsing into the rhetorical question book review; but I really question whether the message and the quality of the book is worth how disturbing it is - and not in a horror movie, I’m scared of things that go bump in the night disturbing, but a deep, bone-chilling fear of humanity, along with a fear of what the future holds for us.
This book is so bleak, so tragic, and so terrifying that I almost wish it had not been written. Reading The Road is an exercise in masochism. I read it myself because I thought a friend who was reading it was wrong, or exaggerating about how terrifying, nightmarish, and relentless it was; she is, in fact, right about all those things. It is hopeless, grim, and arguably pointless. However, it does not compare to any other book I have read, ever. It creates a thoroughly believable and compelling world, and the spare language, the lack of quotation marks or names, the focus only on the road ahead and survival in the telling of the story seems to echo the character’s mindset: in a world this dangerous, and with so little food or warmth, they seem able only to manage the basic brain function necessary to survive.
The despair and greyness of the characters leaches onto you as you read, making The Road impossible to shake. I can’t help but be torn, wondering if it is the great cautionary tale that reviews made it out to be; or just hopelessness and horror for it’s own sake.